Pandemic triggered increase in children’s panic, anxiety, experts say

TULSA, Okla. — As Mental Health Awareness Month wraps up in May, doctors say parents should be aware of the toll the pandemic has taken on their children, even though COVID-19 numbers are trending down around the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows the pandemic triggered a 31 percent increase in children’s emergency room visits for mental health challenges like panic and anxiety.

Mental Health America says an online screening showed more than half of all 11-to-17-year-olds report having thoughts of self-harm or suicide on more than half of the days of the week.

Dr. Lucia Ciciolla, Assistant Psychology Professor at Oklahoma State University, says children are adaptive, but the stress of distance learning and isolation paired with the stress their caretakers were under caused anxiety for children.

Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America, says that a lot of people mistakenly thought when the pandemic ended that problems related to it would magically go away, but that we will see the toll it took on mental health for decades to come.

Gionfriddo called it a mental health crisis. He says that kids 11 and older should be getting regular mental health screenings because half of all mental health problems start by age 14, and 75 percent start by age 25 -- making it a disease of childhood as trauma build upon trauma.

The National “Sound It Out Together” campaign uses music to unlock hard conversations and make it easier to talk with your middle school student about emotional wellbeing. Learn more here.

Anyone who is struggling can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” or “CONNECT” to 741741.